Updated: Jul 18
As human beings, we are keenly and perhaps (although who can say for sure), uniquely aware that some day we will die. And when we lose a loved one, we naturally seek reassurance that at the moment of death, our loved one didn't suffer -- that the experience of death itself is not painful or frightening. And if you have lost a child, the pain may be even more acute because we parents are programmed to protect our children from suffering. We believe it's our job to take care of them always and forever.
Which brings me to the topic of Near-Death Experiences or NDEs. I became interested in this topic by chance. I had never given it much thought before our Tom crossed over in 2019. Probably sometime around the end of 2019 I saw a YouTube video on the subject. I can't remember exactly, but I remember that I was (as my grief counselor remarked) toggling all over the place for anything and everything that would bring me healing, peace, comfort, understanding...
At some point I came across Raymond A. Moody Jr., M.D. and his book Life After Life which was published way back in 1975. So this is hardly new, but again, it was new to me. Near-death experiences (NDEs) refer to experiences that some people report after having been thought, adjudged, or pronounced clinically dead by their doctors, or those people who, in the course of accidents or severe injury or illness, came very close to death. These experiences are typically described as vivid and intense, often involving a sense of leaving the physical body, entering a different realm or dimension, and encountering various phenomena.
Specific details and characteristics of near-death experiences can and do vary. And not everyone who comes close to death or is pronounced dead and survives has an NDE. But those who have had the experience, share several common elements and include:
Out-of-body experience: People often describe feeling as if they have left their physical bodies and can observe themselves and their surroundings from an external perspective.
Tunnel sensation: Many individuals report moving through a dark tunnel or corridor during their near-death experience.
Intense emotions: People may experience a heightened sense of peace, joy, love, or tranquility during the event. Some also report encountering deceased loved ones, pets, and/or spiritual beings.
Life review: A significant number of individuals describe a rapid and detailed review of their life, including significant events and their impact on others. This review is often accompanied by a sense of understanding and insight.
Light and beings of light: Experiences of encountering a bright light that is described as loving, warm, and comforting are commonly reported. Individuals may also encounter spiritual beings or entities during their near-death experience.
Perception of timelessness: Many people report a distortion or suspension of time during their near-death experience, feeling as though hours or even days have passed when, in reality, only a few minutes have elapsed.
Return and integration: Individuals who have a near-death experience often describe a sense of being pulled back into their bodies and returning to life. This event can be accompanied by a reluctance to return, as the NDE is often described as a deeply meaningful and transformative experience.
It is also interesting to note that near-death experiences occur across all cultures, religious beliefs, educational and economic levels. At the same time, culture, religion, and personal beliefs can influence the experience itself.
Dr. Moody shares fascinating case studies in his book Life After Life and his hope is to bring this very human and not at all unusual or new phenomena into the light and out of the shadows. We do not NOW and we may NEVER understand the underlying neurological, psychological and physiological factors that may (or may not) contribute to near-death experiences. But more research is being done every day. And Dr. Moody points us to the possibility that death is NOT the annihilation of our consciousness but rather death is the passage of the soul or mind into another dimension of reality.
As a human who knows she will die some day, I find this both profoundly interesting and comforting. As a mom who has "lost" a child, it is a lifeboat -- hope and healing, and the possibility of a whole heart again. Perhaps even a singing heart again. Joyful! Joyful!
Other resources on the subject of NDEs:
After by Bruce Greyson, MD Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Scienes at University of Virginia
Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander, MD
To Heaven and Back and 7 Lessons From Heaven by MaryC. Neal, MD
Consciousness Beyond Life by Pim Van Lommel
Erwin Schrodinger, Awarded Nobel Prize in Physics 1933
The Science of Near-Death Experiences, by Gideon Lichfield, April 2015 issue of The Atlantic